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Doctor reveals secrets to healthy spine

September 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
We've all heard we should have our "shoulders back, chest out" for better alignment, but what's the real secret to a healthy spine?

Doctors say when we are born we only have one curve. But as we age, our spine develops four curves: one at the neck, upper back, lower back and down to the sacrum.

We need all those curves to stand straight, but degenerative decay starts to eat away at our posture, and experts say there's usually only one reason for that - and it's not your handbag.

Women with heavy handbags are always wondering if they should lighten their load to save their back. According to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Walter Burnham, it's not a problem.

"It's probably not going to cause a problem with you," he said.

We've all heard heavy bags lead to bad posture, bad posture leads to back pain, and it continues in a vicious cycle. But Burnham argues if a bag hurts your back, you probably have underlying spinal issues.

The real culprit for bad posture is a sedentary lifestyle.

"To me, exercise and your bone health are the most important part of maintaining good posture," Burnham said.

Burnham always tells his back-pain patients to take up yoga, tai chi, pilates or the martial arts - anything that can help strengthen your core and get you to stretch.

As far as keeping your shoulders back and your chest out, that's great but a good posture can be different for everyone.

"I think that a standing position that is comfortable is going to be a little bit different for everybody," Burnham said.

An ergonomically correct work station that keeps you from hunching over is part of his prescription, but he feels it's more important to get up. Try to take breaks, stretch, and above all get moving.

Burnham says spine problems start young, so make sure kids eat foods rich in calcium. Adults should supplement with vitamin D for better bone health.

Try these easy posture helpers: Adjust your rear view mirror so you're reminded to sit up straight when you're in your car. Same goes for your computer monitor. And chiropractors suggest you look down once and a while when you walk just to make sure your feet are faced forward, not outward like a duck.

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